Summer is always a busy time for those in the hospitality industry, as hotels fill with holidaymakers, while pubs, bars, and restaurants enjoy the extra trade good weather brings. But as Summer turns to Autumn, sensible business owners will too be turning their thoughts to Christmas, and planning early to make the most of the festive period. Deciding what to offer party groups, mapping out seasonal events and promotions, creating a marketing strategy, and weighing up probable staff needs all take serious thought and early organisation. The reality is that hospitality bosses should get going as soon as possible to ensure Christmas 2016 is filled with cheer.
Christmas Party Planning
September is the month many organised minds turn to end of year staff parties, so it’s essential that those hosting these events have their menus, entertainment, and costings in place well before the queries start to come in. Similarly, families and individuals will soon be debating whether to cook at home or go out for Christmas day, so if you plan to be open on December 25, your food offering and charge per head should already be decided.
The first thing to consider is your target market. And don’t assume knowledge – consumers are notoriously fickle, as last year’s festive trading figures showed. Get to know your customers, constantly analyse what they want, and how much they’re prepared to spend. If the business is a pub with a less affluent clientele, it’s unwise to offer an expensive set menu beyond the means of most regulars, for example. At the same time, Christmas is a celebration, so there’s the need to make what’s offered feel special. How to satisfy customers’ desire for value while still creating a sense of occasion is a challenge. But this could be achieved by something as simple as offering a free glass of prosecco at the beginning of the meal. It’s all about maximising the impact of the meal, while minimising the cost.
When compiling a menu, also think practically about how the kitchen can produce food quickly at busy times. This could mean including more cold starters and puddings, or vegetables served in individual pots that can be heated at the last minute for speed of service. These are all cheats that many hospitality old hands will know well, but anything that minimises line-cooking when lots of customers are demanding food is worthwhile.
Targeting The VIPs
The Very Important People to seek out when you’re bidding for the Christmas party market are often not the grandees at the top of businesses. The individuals who actually make the decision about where staff go, more often than not, are secretaries or office managers. Whoever it is, give them a reason to choose your venue over another. This could involve giving the person booking a voucher or other offer they can redeem in the New Year. You could also incentivise the staff member who arranges bookings, offering a reward for large reservations secured, such as a cash bonus or a bottle of champagne. Acknowledging employees’ hard work can yield great results.
Preferably make one individual responsible overall for your Christmas push to ensure a coordinated and organised effort. This extends to marketing the business, too. Rule one: let the public know your opening hours over the festive break, as many drinking spots and eateries close, causing some confusion. Then, make sure existing and potential customers know as early as possible what you’re actually offering in terms of party menus, seasonal events, and promotions. Sending out marketing emails, flyers, and door drops in the area – as well as prominently advertising in the premises what will be happening – may seem strange so early in the year, but those that make their message most heard will win the biggest slice of business come December. Nearer the time, ramp up your social media efforts to bring in last minute trade.
Attract Custom – And Keep Cash Flowing
Those in the hospitality business typically find they have a lot of cash coming through the tills in December, but the months beforehand can be barren in comparison, even though expenses are still going out, such as extra stock and increased staff costs. One technique to improve cashflow employed by those in the hotel sector during the last credit crunch could help others in the hospitality trade in the lead-up to Christmas. When hotel bookings began to flag as punters reined in their spending, some canny hoteliers offered significant discounts on bookings made in advance, but paid for in full at the time of the reservation. This trick kept cash coming in to the business during slow periods.
Hotel owners, restaurateurs, or pub and bar bosses could employ a similar approach when planning their Christmas party offering. Those organising festive get-togethers will know the number of people coming, plus the cost per head as laid out by you, so calculating the probable total is relatively easy. Knocking off ten per cent from the final bill for early payment could provide a useful boost to the company’s coffers in the quieter months before the winter rush.
Put simply, you have to manage your cashflow. Ensuring that there is enough cash in the business is vital to keep it healthy at all times, regardless of how much trade it is experiencing. Do regular financial forecasts throughout the year to identify any probable shortfalls early. Then, if you see money is likely to be short, it’s possible to make a plan, whether it’s organising bridging finance, such as the short-term loans offered by Boost Capital, extending an overdraft, or organising some other form of funding. As ever, forewarned is forearmed.
Much of the trade hospitality firms win this winter will depend on where they’re located, and exactly when in the week the main Christmas dates fall. For example, Christmas Eve is on a Saturday this year, meaning the Thursday and Friday, December 22 and 23, will be the last days at work for many people. These are likely to be the key busy days in pubs and bars in town centres before the holiday itself. Licensed premises in central locations typically have a very hectic pre-Christmas period, then virtually close altogether between Christmas and New Year. Meanwhile, rural or village hostelries can have quite a gentle build-up to the festivities, then be run off their feet until the beginning of January as people migrate back to their families, and catch up with old friends close to home.
It’s important to look ahead in the diary when it comes to organising staff rotas, too. Talk to employees long in advance to find out their plans, and any possible holiday requests. The Christmas period usually demands extra pairs of hands during peak busy times, so also line up part-timers well ahead to ensure you’re not left short-staffed later on.
Fundamentally, you want your customers, employees, and company to have a happy Christmas this year. Planning ahead – even if most people are still on their summer holidays – should ensure you enter 2017 flush from a successful Christmas season.